Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MI5 and the Outsourcing of Torture

On 14th. May, 2009, The London Review of Books published Gareth Peirce's long lecture about the British Government and its apparent 'out-sourcing' of torture in the period between 2002 and 2009.

Two years before that article appeared, in 2007, Peter Kosminsky raised these issues in fictional form in a major two part television dramatisation called "Britz" which took an extremely thorough look at Muslim life in Britain and the tensions which drive some young Muslims to become suicide bombers, others to become MI5 agents. A young British Muslim was shown being tortured to the point of death on a remote airport, by un-named foreign agents, while MI5 agents stood by and discussed what he had revealed and what they still wanted to know.

Afterwards, a London-based MI5 agent complained to Kosminsky of these scenes - 'none of us would never do that', said the agent.

He or she was quite wrong.

MI5 agents often did exactly that, as now appears clear.

On 8th. July, 2009, the Guardian published a survey focusing on the fate of individual British Muslims tortured all over the world at the behest or with the apparent participation of British government agents. This is a summary, which takes in many of the points which Gareth Peirce was also raising:-

"Today ... there is mounting evidence that torture is still regarded by some agents of the British state as a useful and legitimate investigative tool. There is evidence too that in the post 9/11 world, government officials have been prepared to look the other way while British citizens, and others, have been tortured in secret prisons around the world. It is also clear that an official policy, devised to govern British intelligence officers while interrogating people held overseas, resulted in people being tortured .... Tony Blair, when prime minister, was aware of the existence of this policy ...."

After 9/11, as US and British forces went into Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, officers from a section of MI5 known as 'the international terrorism-related agent running section' were advised that interrogating captured detainees abroad would not impede future prosecutions in Britain but were not warned about the terms of the Geneva convention which ought to be applied to POWs or that, in 1972, the British government had specifically banned five 'techniques of mistreatment' that had been used in Ulster, ie: hooding, stress positions, loud noise, sleep deprivation or food and drink deprivation.

Michael Wood, the FO's senior legal advisor, concluded that it was not an offence in international law to receive or possess information extracted under torture, although it would not be admissible as evidence in court. Instructions to MI5 and 6 officers in January 2002 fell "far short of what is required in international law" according to Philippe Sands, QC, the professor of international law at University College, London, and author of the book 'Torture Team' who has detailed the ways in which the instructions to British intelligence acts implied or implicitly authorised complicity in torture.

"Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on torture, says that only 'wilful ignorance' could prevent MI5 from knowing what would happen to individuals picked up by the ISI (the Pakistani Secret Service)."

"Despite this, MI5 repeatedly asked the ISI to detail and question British citizens in Pakistan .... In some instances, MI5 would tell ISI agents where they could find the suspect, and would even ... draw up a list of questions it wanted the ISI to put to the detainee .... there is clear and growing evidence that British citizens, and others, suffered the most appalling torture as a result."

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